Capital School District's Teacher of the Year, Mary Petrucci also teaches self-motivation, independence

It used to be students' learning was ruled by the Three Rs: reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic.

Nowadays, particularly at Hartly Elementary School, classrooms are governed by another Three Rs: respect, responsibility and readiness.

And as soon as you meet her, you know Capital School District's 2013 Teacher of the Year, third-grade teacher Mary Petrucci, engenders all three.

Petrucci, 32, was proclaimed the district's outstanding educator during a banquet held May 13. Dr. Raymond Paylor, a member of the Capital School Board recalled that moment at the May 15 board meeting.

"One thing that really touched my heart is that during her acceptance speech, she said 'I love the Capital School District,'" Paylor said. "I hope every teacher, every administrator and everyone who works in this district has the same attitude."

Petrucci's own reaction was shock.

"I was dumbfounded," upon hearing the announcement, she said. "It took my breath away to be honored in that way."

No one should doubt the truthfulness of that statement. By all accounts Petrucci is quite humble about her achievements; when it comes to her students, however, her enthusiasm and pride in their achievements is evident to all.

"She's a real leader in this building," said Hartly Principal Tammy Augustus. "Her energy goes into this classroom and into her students.

"When you come in, you see student ownership. With that comes the freedom for Ms. Petrucci to facilitate their learning."

Engendering self-motivation

Walking into her classroom early in the morning before the students arrive, Petrucci is apologetic about the odor hanging in the air. It's evaporated vinegar, which her pupils have been using as part of their Earth science studies.

The classroom itself is well-ordered, but inviting. As the students trickle in, Petrucci greets each with a smile, and answers an occasional question; the children hang up their bookbags, head for their desks and immediately pick up from where they left off the day before.

These kids show enough self-motivation that they already know what they need to be doing.

A native of Dover and a kindergarten-through-high school product of the Capital School District, Petrucci had planned on a teaching career almost by the time she was the age of the children in her classroom. She got much of her motivation from her aunt, Deborah Dalton, also a teacher in the district, and her grandmother, Evelyn Petrucci, a retired CSD teacher.

"My grandmother went into teaching after raising four kids. Going to college late in life to become a teacher was inspiring," she said.

Following graduation from Dover High, Petrucci enrolled in the University of Delaware's education program. She was put in a classroom during her first semester, an experience that immediately reinforced her determination to be a teacher.

Graduating in 2002 with a Bachelor's of Education and Special Education degree, she applied at several schools, but was quickly accepted at Hartly. She's been there ever since.

Over the years, she's taught special education and second, third and fourth grades and earned a Masters of Education degree from Wilmington University.

From the beginning, Petrucci's philosophy has been to not only to help her students learn, but to help them want to learn. Giving them the freedom to manage part of their own classroom time helps motivate them along that line, she said.

"I really want the kids to love what they're doing," she said. "I want them to become independent learners who want to learn beyond the 8:20 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. day."

Petrucci has been in teaching long enough that some of her early fourth-grade students have graduated and entered college themselves. Seeing them progress has been one of her biggest rewards – and one of her greatest sorrows.

"I love making that connection with the students and watching them grow every day," she said. "I love watching them trying something new and taking a risk. It's a joy seeing them achieve their goals."

But, she added, she's always sad to see her students leave Hartly for middle school.

"I regret that we see them for such a little window of time."

In her spare time, Petrucci enjoys going to the beach and cooking interesting dishes with her fiancé, David Eanes, a chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. She also takes pleasure in horseback riding, although she doesn't get up in the saddle as much as in the past.

"I don't do it as much as I used to," she admitted. "As I get older, the falls get a little harder."

For now, Petrucci will be looking forward to summer vacation, which instead of being a relaxing time may be spent getting ready for the state Teacher of the Year competition, to be held in the fall.

"For me, the biggest part in this whole process was that I was selected by my peers at Hartly, that they have the faith in me to move forward to help represent the district," she said.